When the New England Patriots entered the field for their first practice of this year’s training camp, quarterback Danny Etling stood out: he was wearing a white practice jersey as opposed to the red ones — signal no-contact — that quarterbacks usually wear. The mystery of Etling’s attire was lifted soon thereafter. At first, he spent time with the special teams unit before settling into a different role as a wide receiver.
The former seventh-round draft pick moving between positions is nothing new, though. During the Patriots’ mandatory minicamp earlier this offseason, he already saw some time as the personal protector on the punting unit indicating that the team was looking for ways to maximize his talents beyond his original position. And why would they not, given that Etling is a long-shot to make the team as a fourth-string passer?
Etling’s fate in this regard was sealed during this year’s draft when New England invested a fourth-round selection in Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham. The rookie saw considerably more action during spring practices, and can be considered a lock to make the 53-man roster this season. Etling, on the other hand, will have to take any chance he can get — and it looks like playing wide receiver and on special teams is his best shot to stick around.
“I’ve really loved being a part of this team, and I’m willing to do whatever I can to continue that,” the 25-year-old told reporters after today’s practice. However, it became clear that Etling has a long way to go to actually earn a role at his new position: his athletic skills are rather pedestrian compared to the other ‘true’ pass catchers on New England’s roster, and his experience running routes is also lacking.
“I’ve not really played it, per se,” he said before also pointing out that he may lack a wide receiver’s résumé but does have one advantage: knowing the offense well from studying it as a quarterback. Whether or not this knowledge can help him find a role on the world champions’ payroll this season remains to be seen — it seems questionable based on today’s session — but it is clear that the team sees something in him.
And, who knows? The last quarterback to convert to wide receiver in New England did have plenty of success after changing positions. And so did the last wideout named ‘Danny.’ Anything is possible in New England this time of the year.